For top junior athletes, the constant training and relentless practice schedules can often times be overwhelming, which makes striking a balance between other sports and activities incredibly important. Ian Smith, a high school junior who trains out of The West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y., has been able to strike that balance.
Smith attends the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and is an avid piano player.
“It’s one of the most important things for me,” Smith said of playing the piano. “It’s the thing I enjoy most other than tennis, and those are the two things I really love to do. Playing the piano is really fun for me, and it’s also therapeutic … it really helps me relax.”
Having an outlet off of the tennis court has been crucial for Smith, and has helped his game grow over the last few years.
He got his love of tennis from his family. Smith first played when he was about four-years-old, but didn’t like it right away. It was only a few years later that he picked up the sport again, and his passion for it really blossomed.
“At around eight-years-old, I found out I wanted to play again. I would go to my grandmother’s house and she would always have the Tennis Channel on,” Smith recalls. “I watched with her and can remember always rooting against whoever my grandmother was rooting for at the time. But that really got me wanting to start to play again. Once I was older, and I was able to understand more about the game, Roger Federer became my favorite player.”
Smith gets a lot of support from his parents, Chip and Ivona, who have always guided him to follow his passions. Chip is also a tennis player himself, and began to play more consistently recently as Ian as gotten older. The two have proven to be a well-rounded doubles pairing as was evidenced by their play last summer at West Side’s Father-Son Championships.
“Before I played, my dad was not playing that much, but once I got started playing, we both got really into it,” said Smith. “Last summer, we won that tournament, and it was so much fun. It was nice to play with him because we don’t get to play together that often. It was awesome being able to beat all the other teams and show that we were the best combo, and to win that together was amazing for both of us.”
His family has been members of West Side for nearly a decade now, and Smith wouldn’t have it any other way. Events like the Father-Son Championship, as well as the newly created 1,000 Ball Rally Challenge, have added a different element to the tennis training experience.
“West Side is the best, I wouldn’t leave it for any other academy out there, and ever since Luke [Jensen] has come in, he introduced things like the 1,000 Ball Rally Challenge, and has brought a lot of energy,” said Smith. “They have courts for all the surfaces, and my favorite part of playing there is that I’m so comfortable with it, and it’s so close to home. It was the home of the U.S. Open and we still have the stadium. I know a lot of people since being there and everyone is great.”
In fact, Smith was the first winner of the aforementioned 1,000 Ball Rally Challenge, whose object is self-explanatory. To be able to rally for that long requires focus and consistency, something that Smith says has been a constant area of improvement for him.
“I think the strength of my game is my consistency, and I have been more consistent since winning the 1,000 Ball Rally Challenge,” said Smith. “Luke Jensen has taught me that. You have to keep getting the balls in to win the match, so I’ve tried to really focus on that.”
Smith continues to grow bigger and stronger, which will allow his game to mature, and has really emphasized improving his strategy on the court, and becoming more of a cerebral player.
“Picking the right shot to go for, where to place the ball, and when to go for it are things I have really been focusing on getting better at,” Smith said. “You only have a couple of seconds to figure out what you are going to do on the court, so you have to be smart to be a good tennis player for sure.”
Soon to be a high school senior, Smith wants to continue to develop his game in the next year as he hopes to compete on the collegiate level.
“I want to get into the best college I can and play great tennis there,” Smith said. “I would love to go to any competitive school where my abilities are tested and I am comfortable playing.”
According to Jensen, who is the Director of Racquet Sports at West Side, Smith won’t have any trouble finding success in whichever endeavor he decides to go into.
“Ian loves being on the tennis court. His worth ethic and dedication is a great example to the other kids in our junior program,” said Jensen. “A healthy balance of family, education and sport will provide the building blocks of extraordinary success in everything Ian chooses to do.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org